Candidates in New York’s 18th congressional district squared off Tuesday night in their final debate before Election Day. The exchanges between incumbent Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney and Republican James O’Donnell became argumentative and testy during the hour-long debate. And the audience didn’t hold back either.
The first question in the debate, following the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue over the weekend, focused on what Congress could do about gun violence. Congressman Maloney, who is running for a fourth term, answered first.
“Right, well the first thing Congress could do is stop doing nothing,” Maloney said.
O’Donnell, an Orange County legislator, was asked if he would support a ban on assault weapons.
If put a good definition of a single assault weapon that doesn’t have any loopholes, I’ll certainly look at it,” O’Donnell said.
“What would be a good definition?” asked “Times Herald-Record” Executive Editor Barry Lewis.
“I don’t know,” said O’Donnell. “When I see it, I’ll know it.”
And here’s Maloney on health care:
“I met with a young man named Declan. His mom’s here tonight. They live in New Windsor. He has type 1 diabetes. Their number-one concern is that we’re going to roll back protection for pre-existing conditions. That’s not some issue in Washington; that’s her son’s health care,” Maloney said. “And the fact is is that families like Declan’s live and die by these issues. And this crowd in Washington, the Republicans in Washington, have repeatedly tried to repeal those protections. I am proud to have stood up to that.”
“And in terms of my positions, well, I’ve got a record, sir, and you can look at them,” Maloney said. “We don’t know what your positions are. I think these people are wondering who to vote for, you should probably tell them,” said Maloney.
“Vote for me,” O’Donnell said.
“Yeah, no, no that’s, no that’s, that’s great, no excuse me [three times] no excuse me, Barry…” said Maloney.
“Let me ask, no, no, let me ask the question [two times]…” Lewis said.
“…No, excuse me, not that’s a flip, no, that’s a flip answer, but I don’t think, I don’t think when a young…” said Maloney.
“.. answer the question,” said Lewis.
“I think I did take a position. You should listen more carefully. And far as, it wasn’t a flip answer,” said O’Donnell. “One thing I promise everybody here, I will not lose my sense of humor when I go to Congress, alright. I will keep things in their proper perspective, ok.”
“Right,” Maloney said. “Right, right.”
“I will keep things in their proper perspective,” said O’Donnell.
“Right, and when I go to Congress, you won’t lose your health care,” Maloney said.
“What parts of the Affordable Care Act would you repair? What parts would you replace? What specifically would you do to the Affordable Care Act?” Lewis asked.
“Alright, and if you look at the previous debates, I did answer this,” O’Donnell said.
“So I’m asking you the question now,” Lewis said.
“Exactly. I know. I’m happy to answer, Barry, happy to answer. So it’s all about competition, alright,” said O’Donnell. “I’ve talked about the patents on our drugs, right, that we have to lower the number of years that the patent is in effect so it gets out to the market and the competition and drives the drug prices down. The fact that your insurance can only stay within one state, we have to have competition among all 50 states. Each state can go wherever they want to get the lowest insurance company go bid on it.”
Then came arguments about women’s reproductive rights.
“My opponent is pro-life, and I respect that. I am pro-choice, that’s true. He has also called reproductive services homicide, which is a kind of incendiary language that I think has no place in this. Now I know he was talking about late-term abortion, and he said that, but, of course, that’s already restricted in New York after 24 weeks. Nobody’s talking about that,” Maloney said. “But to use terms like homicide in this already electric political climate we find ourselves in is wrong. I think it’s disrespectful to women, and I think he should clean it up. And he’s used it repeatedly in his campaign.”
“If you look up abortion in the first degree, it’s in the penal law and it’s under homicides, abortion, other issues. So it’s in the homicide section of the penal law,” said O’Donnell. “Hey, all I’m saying is for late-term abortions, I totally, if Governor Cuomo, I hope he doesn’t get elected but, if he does, that’s his first priority is to make this the abortion capital of the world? That’s a disgrace.”
O’Donnell repeatedly criticized Maloney for having run in September’s primary for state attorney general.
“He spent $5.3 million. He came in third. He’s using Congress as his backup plan. So now he’s running for Congress again, but his real job he wanted was attorney general,” O’Donnell said. “He wanted to stay here in New York. He’s tired of Washington. The difference between me and him? I want to go to Washington. He wants to get out Washington.”
Maloney responds to criticism about his run for attorney general.
“And I will tell you that I have heard those concerns and that’s fair. I respect it,” said Maloney. “But I think it is important to note, when you talk about my public service, that I have passed 31 bipartisan bills into law. That’s more than any other member of Congress from New York.”
“Those of us who want to see change in Washington need to get out and vote and work like the dickens to make change happen. There’s no such thing as a blue wave. There’s going to be people one at a time who make a decision to go vote, and I hope everyone does, whether they vote for me or somebody else,” says Maloney. “We need an engaged electorate. But I think if we’ve got a good turnout, you are going to see real change in Washington, and it’s about time.”
O’Donnell, who says he feels good after traveling throughout the district, sees it differently.
“I’m well known in Orange County. Orange County makes up 48.6 percent of the district,” O’Donnell says. “Hey, the fact that’s he’s starting to lie and do these mailers with all negative stuff on them, hey, he’s in panic mode, and he should be in panic mode because I’m going to win.”
The debate at SUNY Orange in Newburgh was co-sponsored by the Orange County Citizens Foundation and the “Times Herald-Record.” And O’Donnell, formerly MTA police chief and with the state police, alleges the latter party continues to be biased against him.
“So, yeah, the “Times Herald-Record” is not a big fan of me and I’m not a big fan of them. So I expected this to be four or five on one,” says O’Donnell. “So there was only two of them, so it was three on one, but I think I held my own.”
The three to whom he refers are Maloney and two moderators representing the paper. One is Executive Editor Barry Lewis, a WAMC contributor who says the paper has taken Maloney to task for having run for attorney general.
“I think, ironically, I think Congressman Maloney would say that the Record has been much harder on him than on Mr. O’Donnell,” says Lewis. “I think he pretty much took a note from the Republican playbook, which is go after the press, attack the press, and they were unfair.”
There was discussion about the farm bill, international trade, building a wall at the Mexican border, college affordability and other topics. The 18th district that leans Democratic includes Orange, Putnam and parts of Dutchess and Westchester counties.